'Stoicism is for Life not Just One Week' by Ryan Holiday

Stoicism is for Life, not just One Week

Ryan Holiday

Ryan-Holiday

Here we are, with Stoic Week upon us once again.

This is exciting to me because thousands of new people will be exposed to philosophy for the very first time. I say that half-jokingly, knowing that many people including some who majored in it, think they studied philosophy in school. They didn’t–what they read about and did was an interesting intellectual stimulation but it was not philosophy.

Philosophy, as the Stoics saw it, was not abstraction. It was not theoretical. It was designed to help with the problems of life. And in Ancient Greece and Rome, the problems of life were quite real: murderous tyrants, war, plague, civil strife and banishments existed as very real and daily threats–alongside all the other things we deal with today like jealousy, injuries, greed, sickness, envy, and fear.

The Stoics developed a practical philosophy to make sense of this world, one designed to help its adherents thrive, succeed and live good lives. In my eyes, stoicism posits a very simple premise: We do not control the world around us; we control only how we respond. And so we may as well respond well–respond virtuously.

Stoicism, as passed down to us by Zeno, Epictetus, Seneca, Marcus Aurelius and a host of other ancients, is a tool for that response. Epictetus’s “handbook” was picked up by everyone from James Stockdale to George Washington. Seneca was widely admired by the Christians, Thomas Jefferson and the thinkers of the Enlightenment. Marcus Aurelius proved to be equally inspirational to writers like Ambrose Bierce and Robert Louis Stevenson as he has been for statesmen like Theodore Roosevelt, Wen Jiabao and Bill Clinton.

What does this all mean? It means that whatever problem you’re dealing with this week–or in this life–stoicism can be of help.

A few favorites:

On Ambition:

“Ambition means tying your well being to what other people say or do.

Self-indulgence means tying it to the things that happen to you.

Sanity means tying it to your own actions.” – Marcus Aurelius

On Temptations:

“No matter what anyone says or does, my task is to be good. Like the gold or emerald or purple repeating to itself, “No matter what anyone says or does, my task is to be emerald, my color undiminished.” – Marcus Aurelius

On Self-Criticism

“What progress have I made? I am beginning to be my own friend.’ That is progress indeed. Such a people will never be alone and you may be sure he is a friend to all.” – Seneca

On Other People:

“It’s silly to try to escape other people’s faults. They are inescapable. Just try to escape your own.” – Marcus Aurelius

On Distractions:

“Stick to what’s in front of you—idea, action, utterance.” – Marcus Aurelius

On Objectivity

“Don’t let the force of an impressions when it first hit you knock you off your feet; just say to it: Hold on a moment; let me see who you are and what you represent. Let me put you to the test.” – Epictetus

On Success or Failure:

“To accept it without arrogance, to let it go with indifference.” – Marcus Aurelius

“It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.” – Epictetus

On Fortune

“The wise man looks to the purpose of all actions, not their consequences; beginnings are in our power, but Fortune judges the outcome, and I do not grant her a verdict upon me.” – Seneca

On Endurance

“Life’s no soft affair. It’s a long road you’ve started on: you can’t but expect to have slips and knocks and falls, and get tired and openly wish–a lie–for death.” – Seneca

**

I was fortunate enough to be introduced to stoicism when I was 18 or 19 years old. Not during a week of practice and contemplation, but a week where I nonetheless needed it very badly. I was going through a terrible break up. I was stuck in this apartment with some roommates who I absolutely detested. I was in my second year of college, not sure in which direction to take my life.

A chance encounter led to me picking up Marcus Aurelius and his wonderful Meditations. The wisdom in this book not only helped me with my immediate problems–helped me see some perspective about my romantic woes and helped me realize there was no reason to resent these people I was living with. But more importantly, it set me on an intellectual journey (going “directly to the seat of knowledge” as Marcus put it) that changed my life and set me on a course I never would have expected.

In the years since, stoicism has something that strengthened me in failure, comforted me in pain, gave meaning to events and cautioned humility and conservatism in moments of success. It helped me publish three books–one of which, I can proudly say, is about stoicism. How this all would have played out otherwise, I really have no idea. But what stoicism teaches is that it doesn’t matter. What matters is what happened and that we must be grateful for it–the good and bad alike.

I am. I am so grateful for the windows and doors that stoicism opened. And I hope for everyone participating in 2014’s Stoic Week that you feel the same. And don’t let it stop after 7 days either.

About the author:

Ryan Holiday is a media strategist and prominent writer on strategy and business. After dropping out of college at nineteen to apprentice under Robert Greene, author of The 48 Laws of Power, he went on to advise many bestselling authors and multiplatinum musicians. He served as director of marketing at American Apparel for many years, where his campaigns have been used as case studies by Twitter, YouTube, and Google and written about in AdAge, theNew York Times, and Fast Company.

His first book, Trust Me I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator—which the Financial Times called an “astonishing, disturbing book”—was a debut bestseller and is now taught in colleges around the world. He currently lives in Austin, Texas, and writes at RyanHoliday.net.

He has written a bestselling book on Stoicism, The Obstacle is The Way.

Stoic Week 2014 – Everything You Need to Know

Stoic Week 2014: Everything You Need to Know

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Stoic Week 2014 is an online and international event taking place from Monday 24th to Sunday 30th November. This is its third year. Anyone can participate by following the daily instructions in the Stoic Week 2014 Handbook, which will be published online. You will be following the Stoic practices of philosophers such as Marcus Aurelius, Seneca and Epictetus, for seven days, and discussing the experience of adapting them for modern living with other participants in our online forums. The aims of the course are to introduce the philosophy so that you can see how it might be useful in your own life and to measure its potential therapeutic effectiveness. More about the Stoic Week online course below.

In addition to taking part in Stoic Week online, if you live in and around London, you can book your place for the Stoicism Today – Stoic Week Event.

The London Day is Sold Out

Information About the Day

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This is being held at Queen Mary, University of London (Mile End campus) on November 29th. There are 300 places for the event. This is the biggest annual gathering of people interested in Stoicism. The day will feature talks by experts on Stoicism, life stories by those who have practised it and a whole range of workshops to choose from (including on Stoicism, nature and the environment; Cultivating a wise relationship with technology; Stoicism at work; Lives transformed: personal accounts of Stoic healing; Guided Stoic meditation; Stoicism and love; Stoic ethics under pressure). There will also be discussion on how Stoicism is being used in schools, UK prisons, the army and business. In addition to the Stoicism Today team (Chris Gill, John Sellars, Gill Garratt, Tim LeBon, Jules Evans, Patrick Ussher, Gabriele Galluzzo and Donald Robertson – read more about its members here), special guests will include Prof. Angie Hobbs (Professor of the Public Understanding of Philosophy at the University of Sheffield), Nikki Cameron who runs the philosophy club at Low Moss prison and Mark Hardie, former Marine and resilience coach.

To get an idea of the day, you can see a video of last year’s London event here.

More about Stoic Week 2014 & The Online Course

About Stoicism: Stoicism was first practised in the Graeco-Roman world in around 300 BC. At the core of Stoicism is the idea that virtue, or strength of character, is the most important thing in life. They focussed on ‘following nature’ by perfecting the rational nature of the human being, through cultivating wisdom, courage, temperance and justice, and also on bringing to fruition the social nature of the human being, by aiming to excel in our social roles, whether familial or in society at large. Stoicism, therefore, is simultaneously a philosophy of inner strength and outer excellence.

About the course: The course guides you through all the basic ideas of Stoicism. Each day has its own theme, exercises to practise, reflections from original Stoic texts to consider. It has been written by the Stoicism Today team, an interdisciplinary group of academics and psychotherapists. You are also encouraged to take wellbeing surveys before and after the week, so that we can measure the course’s effectiveness.

You can find audio resources (guided meditations to download) for the course here.

Registration: The course is not held on the Stoicism Today website but on its sister website, modernstoicism.com. Please register for the course on that website, and fill in the pre-week questionnaires the weekend before Stoic Week commences, and again once Stoic Week is over. You can register now by following these two steps:

1. Create an account on modernstoicism.com if you don’t have one already.

2. Visit the main course page for Stoic Week 2014 and click the ‘enrol’ button.

You will receive an automatic email with further instructions, which are also available once you enrol on the modernstoicism website.
The Stoic Week 2014 Handbook is now available on the modernstoicism website.
You can also download it here and follow the week without registering on modernstoicism.com but in order to take part in the experiment, and discuss Stoicism with others following the course, you are encouraged to register on the modernstoicism website.

Please note that due to high levels of traffic the modernstoicism.com site has been experiencing some down-time. If you can’t get through, please try again later. We are working to resolve these technical difficulties.

If you would prefer to take part in the course without registering on the modern stoicism website, you can do so. Follow the instructions here.

 

Want to share your experiences during the week? There will be very active discussion boards during Stoic Week on the course website. You can also post your reflections on the Stoicism Facebook group.

What were the results of last year’s study? Last year, around 2,400 people took part in Stoic Week worldwide. Our findings supported the view that Stoicism is helpful. Participants reported a 14% improvement in life satisfaction, a 9% increase in positive emotions (joy increased the most of all emotions, whilst optimism increased by 18%) and an 11% decrease in negative emotions. The findings also supported the view that Stoicism not only increases well-being but also enhances virtue –  56% of participants gave themselves a mark of 80% or more when asked whether it had made them a better person and made them wiser.

What else can I look forward to during Stoic Week? On the Stoicism Today blog during Stoic Week, there will be personal testimonies of how Stoicism has been useful in people’s lives, as well as articles tackling various stereotypes of Stoicism, and reflections by prominent authors on Stoicism and its uses in the modern world. Get in touch if you would like to share reflections on how Stoicism has been helpful in your life.

Stoicism in Schools:

Are you a teacher? We have developed an easy to use lesson plan for teachers which you can use to introduce Stoicism to your students. 60 schools world-wide have already signed up to take part in Stoic Week.

Stoicism in the Media:

If you would like to run a feature Stoic Week, please get in touch. You can read of the previous media interest in Stoic Week here.

Please share this page with anyone you think might be interested, and post it on Facebook and Twitter.

Stoic Week’s twitter account is @StoicWeek. The Facebook page for Stoic Week 2014 can be found here.

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